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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kobe Bryant: "I'm a Difficult Person to Deal With"

In an All-Star Weekend interview, a reporter asked Kobe Bryant if his reputation for being a "difficult teammate" might hinder the Lakers' rebuilding efforts. Bryant replied:

No, not necessarily.  I'm a difficult person to deal with.  For people who don't have the same kind of competitiveness or commitment to winning, then I become an absolute pain in the neck.  Because I'm
going to drag you into the gym every single day.  If you need to be drug in, that's what I'm going to do.


And for players that have that level of commitment, very, very, easy.  And we can wind up enhancing the entire group and elevating them to that type of level.  But if we don't have that commitment, man, I'll absolutely be very, very tough to get along with.  No question about it. 

Bryant may be a "difficult teammate" but it is also rewarding to be his teammate; his impact on the Lakers goes far beyond what statistics can measure: many players have championship rings only because they were fortunate enough to play alongside Bryant during Bryant's prime--and many players had their best individual seasons while playing alongside Bryant, including Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum.

If I had been blessed with the opportunity to play in the NBA, I would not have found it difficult at all to play with an MVP-caliber player whose main goal is to win championships--but I would have found it very difficult to play with Carmelo Anthony or Gilbert Arenas or Stephon Marbury or any other All-Star caliber player who only gives consistent effort at one end of the court and who often seems to have an agenda that is focused on something other than winning (playing in a big city, getting paid, being quirky, etc.). I don't understand a guy like James Harden; he probably could have won multiple championships playing the Manu Ginobili role for the Oklahoma City Thunder but he preferred to force a trade to Houston so that he could get paid and "prove" that he is "the man." If you are "the man," then beat out Russell Westbrook for the number two role on the team--or, better yet, do whatever it takes to win a championship (a la Ginobili with the Spurs) and don't worry about who gets the credit or who gets paid. The Thunder have not missed a beat without Harden and the Rockets had to acquire the best center in the NBA just to move one step up from battling for the eighth seed. 

Harry Truman was renowned for "giving hell" to his opponents but he said, "I never did give them hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." Bryant, like Michael Jordan before him, tells his teammates the truth: if they are not playing hard or if they are making stupid plays, he lets them hear about it in no uncertain terms. That may seem "difficult" or feel like "hell" but it also creates a no excuses, no slacking allowed environment. When Bryant plays with an avulsion fracture in his finger or other injuries that would force most players out of the lineup, he sets an example that no one should be visiting the trainer's room unless that player is at death's door. 

The Lakers face a challenging rebuilding task not because Bryant is "difficult" but rather because Bryant can no longer carry the Smush Parkers and Kwame Browns of the world into the playoffs; with Bryant injured or absent, all of the Lakers' weaknesses are exposed and there is no relief in sight: that was true during the 2013 playoffs even when the Lakers had a twin towers pairing of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and it is true during this season even though the Lakers have at least as much talent now as they did circa 2006 when Kwame Brown and Smush Parker became two of the most improbable playoff starters in NBA history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:32 AM

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2 Comments:

At Wednesday, February 26, 2014 11:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think that the Lakers should get a new coach after this season?

And if you do, assuming that Phil Jackson isn't available, who do you think is capable to replace D'Antoni?

I know that you've never been a fan of D'Antoni's high octane offense with no defense approach, but at the same time, I see all of the free agent coaches around the league and I can't definitely say with they are quantitatively better than him.

 
At Wednesday, February 26, 2014 5:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

If the Lakers are planning to once again be a championship contender then they will need to replace D'Antoni; D'Antoni's system is fun to watch and he can be very charismatic/engaging with media members but he simply does not place enough emphasis on defense.

I doubt that Phil Jackson would return to the Lakers as a coach and I doubt that the Lakers' owner wants to hire Jackson as a coach.

The Lakers need to find a coach who will implement a sound defensive system and who will run an offense that suits the players' skill sets and can be effective in the playoffs when the games become slower and more physical. It is difficult to mention specific names at this point because it is not certain which coaches will be available after the season ends.

In general terms, I would say that the Lakers need to find the next Frank Vogel or Erik Spoelstra; they need someone whose name may not be recognized by casual fans but who has paid his dues and who knows how to build a defensive-minded team.

 

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